The Great Pong: Gas leak in Rouen, France, leaves foul-smelling cloud of gas wafting over southern England

Emergency services inundated with concerned phone calls

We can’t call it The Great Stink.  That name’s taken.  It refers to the summer of 1858 in London, when the smell of poo and other unmentionables coming from the Thames was so bad that Parliament had to stop sitting, and a whole new sewer system was commissioned. But we could perfectly well call it The Great Pong.

Click HERE to view graphic

For it was definitely a pong – a pong of rotten eggs, most people said, although less delicate souls used the word farts – and it was most certainly great, yesterday blanketing much of southern England like a weather system, a smell so prominent and so unpleasant that people called their local fire brigade, or the National Grid, in their tens of thousands.

And guess what? It came from France, zis Great Pong.  What was it then, you foul-smelling Froggies?  The stench of one of your giant rotten cheeses, hein?  The whiff of a colossal clove of your unspeakable garlic? Alas, nothing so picturesque. 

It was a gas cloud which had escaped from a factory in Rouen in Normandy, and the gas was mercaptan, which is added to odour-free natural gas so that gas escapes can be detected, as its own odour (although the gas is harmless) is among the most powerful of all – detectable in concentrations as tiny as one part in 2.8 billion.

They certainly thought so in Rouen – it so affected things in the city that last night’s football match between Rouen and Olympique Marseille had to be postponed – and they certainly thought so on this side of the Channel, when the gas cloud had drifted across.

“It's disgusting. It's just like gone-off egg. Absolutely disgusting. What is it?” said Susan Smith, as she shepherded her deliriously laughing children through the barriers at Redhill Station in Surrey. “It's from France? They don't even like eggs do they? I'm supposed to be doing beef bourguignon tonight. That's put me right off.” Too right, Susan!  You don’t need to bugger up good English beef with fancy Froggie sauces!

People in coastal towns in Kent and Sussex noticed it first, then by mid-afternoon the mind-boggling pong  had spread not only through Surrey to Greater London, but out across the country in a wide arc, with reports coming in from Oxfordshire and even as far north as Northampton in the East Midlands, and Dorset in the West.

People feared a gas leak which might be really dangerous. The National Grid, which would normally deal with up to 10,000 calls countrywide in a day, was inundated with more than 100,000 calls by 2pm. A spokesman said it was an "unprecedented" volume. Fire brigades were also faced mass inquisitions. London Fire Brigade tweeted, on its official twitter account: “Listen carefully I shall say zis in only 140 characters; we attended 42 calls today due to the French gas cloud over London alloallo”

The Health Protection agency offered reassurance. “It is an unpleasant odour which may cause some people to feel slightly nauseous but it is not toxic and will dispel naturally,” the HPA said in a statement.

According to the French interior ministry, the factory at the centre of the leak is owned by Lubrizol, a subsidiary of investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway group; there was no word last night on the cause of the leak.

That’s if it did come from the factory.  Maybe they’re just saying that, the Froggies. For who knows what devilish giant cheese they might actually have developed?

Who knows how big a clove of garlic might actually get, once they put their minds to it?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones